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Opinions of Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Jerry Rawlings' War on Businesses

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Ex-President Jerry Rawlings, owner of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), on the campaign trails, attacks the rich. As much as Ghanaians know Rawlings background, this is by extension attacks on businesses and investments.

In Rawlings’ view you got to be a “cocaine dealer” to be rich and he sees some of the rich who are associated with the New Patriotic Party (NPP) as no more, no less as cocaine dealers aided by some NPP insiders. In his usual manner, Rawlings did not provide evidence to buttress his wild accusations that damages Ghana’s reputation. Shockingly, despite his almost 20 years rule, Rawlings reflects election being fought on low cultural and intellectual level, if Ghana’s progress is anything to go by.

Rawlings thinks Ghana’s economy is so appalling under the ruling NPP that anybody who is making it, so to speak, is a “cocaine dealer.” Other former African Presidents such as Nelson Mandela (South Africa) and Joachim Chissano (Mozambique) have not only been encouraging their respective national businesses but have been courting international investments into their country.

The attack on the rich is a throwback to Rawlings’ 1979 meteoric rise onto the Ghanaian political scene mired in his famous signature of anger and envy. First under his short-lived Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), where he specifically destroyed a lot of businesses (with markets blown into pieces and private businesses projected as enemies of state), accusing them of underhand dealings, most without evidence.

As he fought against primarily military corruption and moral decadence, Rawlings waged sustained physical and psychological attacks - including executions and confiscations - on businesses and investments. Businesses and investments, most of them families owned pre-dating Ghana’s formation in 1957, were either shattered or paralyzed.

Unknown to Rawlings he was destroying the very base of Ghana’s development and development indicators in his almost 20-year-rule show, very low compared to the much better indicators of the ruling NPP’s only eight years in power.

Such aversion against businesses followed Rawlings in his long years on the Ghanaian political scene and occurred in an atmosphere of death, chaos, fear, threats and harassments. Businesses do not grow in such an atmosphere. As the offshoot of the AFRC, Rawlings’ second military junta Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) that ruled for almost 12 years equally didn’t help business and investment either, destroying and confiscating a lot of them.

As the offshoot of the PNDC, the NDC is seen as anti-business, anti-investment, and has outdated sagacity as to how to tackle the Ghanaian economy. In the climate of the on-going democratic dispensation, the NDC still hasn’t shown any new ideas of how it will deal with the Ghanaian economy despite ruling for eight years. On the campaign trail, the NDC have not drawn any corrective lessons learned from the junta years of the AFRC and the PNDC where businesses were destroyed. Even the NDC’s presidential candidate, John Atta-Mills, a business lawyer who should have reflected a new incarnation of Rawlings as business friendly, is seen as the dummy of Rawlings, who has iron grip on the NDC, and who will interfere in Atta-Mills economic programs negatively should Atta-Mills win the December 7 presidential election.

No doubt, the NPP said the NDC in its eight years rule mismanaged the Ghanaian economy, with ex-President Jerry Rawlings and his associates behaving like children let loose in a candy shop, thinning out the treasury, and not growing businesses enough. The result, argued the business and investment friendly NPP that pride itself as better economic managers, is that when the NDC left office in 2001, the economy was a US$4 billion Gross Domestic Product but now at US$16 billion GDP. The NPP again charges that when the NDC left office in 2001 the minimum wage of workers was US$0.50 cents but now at US$2.25. The NPP further makes the case that when the NDC left office in 2001, inflation was around 42 percent but now down to 18 percent. Against the fuller view of these entire NPP successful business picture is banks chasing people for loans to invest and do business unlike the NDC era.

The on-going electioneering campaigns have not shown Rawlings, Atta-Mills and the NDC talking much about businesses and investments, with the Rawlings attack on the rich becoming the emblematic stupidity of the entire campaign. Rawlings’ attack on the rich as “cocaine dealers” seem things couldn’t go any lower or get any dumber in a Ghana that needs to encourage its private sector, especially how to open up the closed traditional economy, as part of its broader development drive.

Rawlings’ confused business sense, his aversion against businesses and investments, and his sense that successful people are either cocaine dealers or “crooks,” over the years, both as military junta Head of State and civilian President (for almost 20 years) is mirrored in Vijay Mahajan’s new Africa Rising: How 900 Million African Consumers Can Offer More Than You Think.

Mahajan argues compellingly that despite volatile politics (as was seen in Ghana under Rawlings), underdeveloped markets (as Ghana experienced during the Rawlings years) and poor infrastructure (as Ghana saw in its banking and other financial systems under Rawlings), Africa may be deprived but this offers rich rewards for businesses audacious, novel and supple enough to grapple with the African reality.

Yes, Mahajan’s work is “very optimistic,” regardless of the obstacles to doing business or to development, as Rawlings’ Ghana exemplifies. But the fact that Ghanaian banks are today chasing businesses to take loans for investments, a first since corporate Ghana was founded 51 years ago under the ruling NPP regime, unlike the Rawlings’ years, demonstrates that Rawlings and his NDC have been anti-business and anti-investment that have hurt Ghana’s progress very badly in the almost 20 years they were in power.